Local government is archaic and 30 years behind the times in partnering with Maori, Far North iwi leader Rangitane Marsden believes.
Mr Marsden, of Ngāi Takoto, says councils have not engaged with tāngata whenua and have little understanding of what Treaty partnerships are all about.
The Chief Negotiator for the tribe's Treaty settlement says local government has not met its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.
Mr Marsden says local government has not been actively involved with Treaty settlement processes and, therefore, has not learned about their obligations.
"Local Government is pretty much devoid or unknowing in that space and so I'm currently doing a lot of work around better local government in Northland. Local government has the ability to connect both central government and grassroots people with grassroots communities and iwi themselves.
"Local government has sat on the sidelines as a result of Treaty settlement processes and hasn't really engaged in a relationship or an understanding of what Treaty partnership is all about. Central government over the last 20 years has had to engage with Māori and learned that there's nothing to fear from having a relationship with iwi and together that builds nationhood."
Rangitane Marsden says barriers exist in local government that prevent partnerships from forming.
"Local government is 20 to 30 years behind the eight ball, and the understanding of councils to what does the Treaty mean? What do relationships with iwi mean?
"They're still struggling in that space and I find that quite amazing in this day and age that we have an archaic component of our environment or community that is pretty much focused on bureaucracy and gathering rates but has no real relationship to communities so we're attempting to change that in the Far North through a better local government partnership and participation model."
Mr Marsden believes that local government is eschewing its Treaty obligations due to a fear and perception of where iwi Māori sit.
"And now with Treaty settlements having been achieved and still to be achieved, there's a shifting paradigm and a new emerging economy and a new emerging powerhouse that people should not be afraid of, but realise that if they partnered up and worked with it, it's going to be for the greater good of the community.
"That's a hard message for councils to understand so we find it quite frustrating, but also understand that unless they're engaged in such activities they are forever going to be an archaic group in the middle of a new, emerging, changing time. I think it's to their own detriment if they remain there."
More work needed, mayor admits
The Mayor of the Far North District Council says his council is setting up a Māori liaison policy, while a recent report has recommended ways that tāngata whenua can more fully contribute to its decision-making processes.
But John Carter, who has been in the job for 10 months, admits his council, along with the rest of local government, needs to do a lot more work to engage with Māori.
"Yes, I wouldn't deny the fact that the attitude has changed significantly in the last 10 months, I don't want to be critical of past councils, but things didn't go as well as they could have previously, and so now we have taken a whole fresh look not just in regard to this issue but right across the way in which the district council is run.
"It's quite a sea change quite honestly, so what Rangitane has said in general is probably fair comment."
Mr Carter says a proposal titled Māori Strategy on Relationships and Engagement has brought about changes with the council determining that it prefers to be working alongside Māori.
He says building that relationship will require the council to assess a range of options. Before any firm commitments are made, there is a requirement to ask Māori how they would like to be represented, engaged and consulted.
Partnership 'an opportunity"
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule is defending councils' track record.
"The Government has had to deal, negotiate, work through, build relationships to manage the Treaty settlement processes for which local government has largely sat on the sidelines as they're not key partners in the negotiations.
"That being said, I do think that many local authorities and local government across New Zealand is rapidly moving to understand the new paradigm, the new sense of certainty that's been given as Treaty settlements are rolled out and many are very genuine in their wish to build long term relationships with iwi."
Mr Yule says for a large number of local authorities in Aotearoa partnership with Māori is an opportunity, rather than a threat.